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Pastor, Help Yourself!

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 164

Recently a resolution to establish compensation for pastors who had resigned or been forced out of a congregation was presented to the North and East Pastors' Conference of the Michigan District-LCMS. If approved, the resolution was to be sent to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's upcoming Synodical convention.
 
After much discussion, the pastors cast their vote for a resolution which would assist and support their ministries and that of other pastors. What was the result? After three votes, the vote was 30 yes, 30 no... a tie. The chairman then cast his deciding vote to break the tie. His affirmative vote passed the resolution.* 
 
Some Reactions And Responses
 
Before, during and after the vote, several pastors spoke to me. Some supported it; others did not. Most interesting, however, was the comment of one pastor who, having been forced out several years ago, indicated prior to the vote that he was against it because "it would never work. So," he concluded, "he was against it."
 
Others seemed to feel it didn't have a "snowball's chance in hell" of surviving. When asked why, one responded, "Because pastors have an amazing spiritual gift of being able to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to helping themselves."
 
Perhaps the most profound response regarding the narrow passage of the resolution was by one of the most seasoned pastors. "It never ceases to amaze me how many proclaimers of grace prefer self-righteous suffering." 
 
Why Don't Pastors Don't Help Themselves???
 
Why is it that Pastors, when given the opportunity, tend not to help themselves? Why is it that sometimes it seems they prefer "self-righteous suffering."
 
Certainly there's a place for "suffering" in the ministry. But, as the writer of Ecclesiastes stated, there's a time for everything...including a time not to suffer.
 
It appears that the central reason that pastors don't help themselves is that they haven't developed a perspective that they can and do influence denominational policy and practice in many areas--including ministerial health.
 
Others lack the perspective, the discernment, the will, or whatever it takes to take the time and energy--at the proper time--to do things to work together to address and eliminate the results of destructive "self-righteous suffering."
 
Some Proposed Reasons Why Pastors Don't Help Themselves
1) Gender Tendencies:
 
John Gray and other gender researchers often point to the male tendency to withdraw into the "cave" during difficulties. Regardless of gender, withdrawal behaviors (e.g. denial, projection, flight, et al) isolate individuals from sources of help.
 
2) Face-Saving:
 
Pastors are often too proud to admit their ministry is in need of assistance, support or help. Reaching out for support is often perceived to be tantamount to admitting incompetence, failure, ineptitude, or professional unworthiness.
 
Somehow pastors find it much easier to admit the problem after they have gone through great loss and enormous spiritual and emotional trauma. Perhaps afterward the event they felt they had nothing to lose. Had the pastors sought timely support, perhaps some of the trauma may have been avoided or, at least, lessened. Certainly it can be embarrassing to ask for help. It can be risky business.
 
Unless pastors can overcome the related risks and embarrassment, they will continue to resist admitting, seeking and asking for those things which can help them and their ministries.
 
3) Misguided Self-abasement:
 
Having been trained in the "servant" model of pastoral leadership, pastors may feel it improper to ask for anything for themselves. Unfortunately, there is a very fine and easily blurred distinction between sacrifices made because of poor personal boundaries and a scriptural view of sacrifice which does so out of the strength and conviction of faith. The former is symptomatic of being out of control; the latter is unassailable testimony of faith-driven motivation.
 
4) Paucity of Clear Biblical Models of Pastors Caring For Pastors:
 
Scriptures contained few detailed biblical models of pastoral care for pastors. Aside from those seemingly scare instances (e.g. Jesus calling the disciples to go with him to pray, St. Paul requesting visitors while in prison, Ananias offering support to Paul, et al.), the Scriptures tend to depict God's called workers as care-givers not care-receivers. Detailed accounts of how pastors can help and pastors are, for the most part, missing in the scriptures.
 
5) Ignorance and/or Defiance of Biblical Mandate:
 
Scriptures do exhort Christians to care for one another, to respect their leaders, etc. Unfortunately, congregations and pastors both fail--either in ignorance or in defiance--of these mandates. God's calling to love one another is not just a one-way, top down proposition. It's a two-way, bottom-up proposition as well. 
 
Congregations and pastors who are unwilling to call attention to this will of God deny the ministry the healthy basis of genuine agape love. Such love is not only supportive and encouraging; it is unconditionally forgiving. Indeed, it's primary objective is to submit in love to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
 
6) Congregational Expectations That Pastors Not Be In Need of Help:
 
Many congregations may "expect" the pastor to be the artesian well of support and ministry. Unrealistic and unhealthy performance expectations to ashamedly low pastoral compensation are just two key indicators of congregational neglect. Unfortunately, many pastors accept this toxic paradigm. Pastors do get trapped in a workaholic cycle of addressing every congregational need. Pastor are hesitant--and afraid--to ask for fair compensation as well as support.
 
The truth is they're trapped. Though they may recognize it, they may not have the resolve to get out of the trap. Why? Perhaps because they don't recognize two distinctive characteristics of traps.
 
The first characteristic of a trap is that traps work only because they lure the victim by offering an attractive bait which leads straight into the trap. In other words, traps play on the unhealthy, uncontrolled instincts, desires and coveted rewards sought by the victim for their fulfillment. The second purpose of traps is to catch the victim unawares and often place them into great potential harm.
 
Congregational expectations can be healthy and scriptural. They can also be dysfunctional traps of unhealthy and unbiblical expectations. If pastors do not recognize the trap, they can follow their unhealthy desires to please people, be respected, popular and loved, and fall right into the trap at their own peril. Indeed, when the trap snaps shut, both pastor and the congregation are often hurt.
 
6) Seminaries Don't Train Them To Seek Help:
 
Certainly seminaries are easy and convenient whipping posts. Whether it's the seminaries not teaching healthy paradigms of ministry or seminarians too engrossed in their own ministerial self-concept, a truly Biblical model of the "servant-shepherd" is misunderstood.
 
7) Lack of Denominational Support:
 
For numerous reasons Denominational staff may be poor supporters of ministry. Whether the cause be funds, shortage of staff, overworked and burnt-out denominational executives, administrative structures and bureaucracy, etc., far too often pastors in may need feel ignored and unimportant.
 
Accounts of denominational neglect of congregational ministries are heard far-too-often. Pre-occupied with an overwhelming overload of other concerns, denominational staff just may not have the time, interest, or energy to deal with yet another ministry in need of help. Other times such executives may have their eyes on their next promotion or those programs which bring glitz, glitter and glamour.
 
For some, implementing the latest new program may be easier and bring greater joy to executives than offering a listening and supportive presence. It takes time and energy. The results are often uncertain. Unlike new programs which can be promoted and "bragged about," helping pastors with  needs is often, by necessity, a quiet, "behind the scenes" confidential proposition. Indeed, the risks of helping can be great; the efforts may be long-term and inconclusive, and the positive results seemingly rare.
 
Denominational staff willing to get their "hands dirty" in the messier part of the ministry do so at the peril to their own political standing. The need for support is certainly there. Effective and trusted labors, unfortunately, are few.
 
8) Pastors' Unresolved Personal Issues:
 
Pastors may refuse help because of their own unresolved personal issues. In those cases where willing and competent denominational support is available and willing, these issues get in the way of well-intentioned efforts to extend support to pastors. Fear, distrust, and abandonment issues are just some of the developmental issues which impede supportive efforts by others to help pastors.
 
Certainly, more than one denominational executive has experienced frustration as pastors unresolved personal issues got in to the way of reconciliation, growth, and restoration of congregational equilibrium.
 
9) Professional Independence:
 
One of the greatest positives about the ministry is the independence it offers. Unfortunately, those who relish this independence may find it "unnatural" to share, network and affiliate themselves with common causes. Perhaps some even find that it is "unspiritual" to discuss areas of ministries which, frankly, only pastors may be able to recognize and address in unison.
 
10) Pastoral Distrust Of Other Pastors:
 
Pastors are well aware of the importance of keeping a confidence...especially when it concerns them. They may not, however, be so concerned relative to the confidences of others. Pastors who find themselves and their ministry falsely represented become justifiably careful and cautious of what they say and to whom.
 
Those who misrepresent, cut down, or otherwise make their ministry appear greater than others do what may be the greatest damage to the Body of Christ. They distrust they foster often leads to a sort of professional paranoia. Finding the trusted, confidential ministry peer is one of the most difficult things to find...and the greatest gift any pastor can have.
 
 
What Can Be Done
 
The list above is no where near exhaustive. It may, however, give an adequate representation of some key problem areas. What can be done to address these problem areas?
 
1) Pastors Must Help Themselves.
 
Pastors must recognize that a healthy ministry must be modeled. It must start with them. They cannot place the blame on seminaries, denominational executives, antagonists or others. They must recognized that the oft-repeated quote attributed to Pogo applies to them. "We have met the enemy and the enemy is us."
 
2) Pastors Must Value The Ministry Calling As God Does.
 
In a cultural and ecclesiastical environment sometime hostile to the ministry, pastors must be the ones to uphold the high office of this calling. Of course, this requires that pastors, with Biblical humility, recognize the inestimable value of God's calling.
 
Pastors must recognize that their calling is not simply to a congregation, group of congregations, or specific ministry. Their calling is to uphold the God's high respect for the ministry among other ministers and congregations.
 
Some pastors already recognize and up hold this standard in all their dealings with pastors and other's parishioners. Others, however, may need to seriously examine the character which they bring to God's calling to them. Whenever the ministry is threatened, maligned, or otherwise disrespected and disregarded--and whoever it might be--pastors must uphold their own and others' ministries.
 
At all times, pastors must in every way uphold and encourage the respect of the Ministerial Office. After all, it's not their office. It is God's.
 
3) Pastors Must Recall And Apply Biblical Principles Of Christian Care To Pastors.
 
In spite of the paucity of direct references as to how to take care of pastors, Scripture is replete with principles of Christian care. As these examples can simply be applied to parishioners, in many cases they can just as easily be applied to pastors.
 
When scriptures give specific principles and examples as to how to take care of pastors, these ought be examined and applied. Perhaps the most detailed examples come from the Pastoral Epistles. There one finds one pastor, Paul, ministering to other pastors, namely Timothy and Titus. Sometimes the principles of pastoral care are stated directly. Other times they need to be inferred.
 
For example, when Jesus took the disciples to pray, perhaps there's many things which can be inferred as to how Jesus personally ministered to these chosen few. Paul relationship to Dr. Luke, though not necessarily explicitly described, certainly entailed the constant use of things conducive for supportive Christian relationships. Ananias' initial support to Saul--at risk to his own standing--is one of many fine examples of helping other pastors.
 
Risk-taking, being a brother, constant prayer, regular contact and encouragement, faithfulness to God's Word, and instilling the joy of God's calling are but some of the supportive actions which one may infer.
 
4) Pastors Must Be Proactive.
 
Instead of depending on denominations to help, or grasping for last-ditch fixes in the heat of the moment, pastors need to be proactive. They need to begin examining the pastoral profession.
 
Pastors need to look at the pitfalls, the problems, and the situations and circumstances which cause difficulty. Having examined them they need to work together to identify available resources, develop new resources, and use their often unused influence to enact necessary changes at all levels of the denomination to value and uphold the ministry.
 
Areas in which pastors may need to be proactive may include...

* providing severance compensation for pastoral resignations; providing            input as to pastoral reinstatement in certain cases;
* urging and demanding protection from being placed in historically            conflicted and troubled churches;
* designating and developing certain congregations as "pastoral healing            and renewal" centers for pastors traumatized by church conflict;
* developing a means of protection against congregations who arbitrarily            and suddenly decide to cut the pastor's salary.

This is merely a sampling of things which can be done in your denomination. Whether these--or other necessary things--can or will be done is not so much dependent on the congregations, on the on the district, on the denomination, or anyone else. It depends on the pastors.
 
The degree to which pastors are proactively involved in implementing comprehensive programs for pastoral support is the degree to which such pastoral support will be established.
 
 
5) Pastors Must Utilize Or Develop of Professional Associations For Pastoral Support.
 
The development of pastoral associations encouraging and requiring continuing education, mutual support, etc. Existing organizations such as the Association of Courageous Churches and the Association of Parish Clergy are two examples.
 
Seminaries might even consider alumni associations specifically with the goal of supporting it's ordained alumni. Already blessed with a broad donor base which includes alumni, seminary associations for pastoral support would likely draw a broad base of support from those most inclined to support the ministry.
 
Those working in the ministry of wills and designated giving to church foundations may also provide opportunities for clients to establish foundations and endowments connected with individual or clustered congregations, districts, denominations, and seminaries specifically to partially or completely fund a smorgasbord of pastoral support programs.
 
6) Pastors Must Urge A Shift In Emphasis From Pastoral Recruitment To Pastoral Retention.
 
The death-knell of any profession is when its own professionals discourage others from entering it. Unfortunately, it occurs in many professions. Most notable of these professions are medicine and the ministry.
 
Seminary and Christian college recruiters often do their job well. They call for more pastors and church workers. An October 19, 1996 article in the Albuquerque Tribune cited that 1300 pastors in the United States leave the ministry each month. Let me repeat. 1300 pastors resign each month. That's the equivalent of two, three, four or more Christian Colleges, Bible Colleges, and seminaries each month!
 
One can only wonder how much pain is needed to cause a shift in bias from recruitment (as important as that is!) to a greater concentration on retention.  Retention is, admittedly, a difficult and costly area.
 
From a human resource perspective, and from the perspective of the necessity of getting and keeping laborers in the harvest, how long with the church continue to pay this exorbitant price for pastoral neglect? How long will it be until real significant changes are introduced and made to curb this disturbing trend? How long will the Body of Christ tolerate this paradigm? Certainly, the Head of the Body has zero toleration for it. Let's follow the head!
 
7) Pastors Need To Address Their Own Personal Issues.
 
Pastors need to recognize how original sin uniquely negatively affects their personalities, their leadership, their responses, and other aspects of the ministry. Such issues may be fear, lack of defined boundaries, addictions of various kinds, unhealthy judgmentalism, inadequate spiritual base for personal ministry, et al.
 
The beginning of this process, of course, is knowing oneself. Essential to the process is a willingness to consider and admit the issues, overcome the fear of dealing with the issues, and address them in the context of Law and Gospel. In some cases professional therapy may be needed.
 
Pastors need to daily and repeatedly resource the unconditional forgiving grace. In so doing, they may not only find God's strength for recovery from their personal weaknesses, they may also find an effective and needed emphasis in their own congregations. Indeed, it is the fresh, daily renewed experience of God's forgiveness which is the basis for an unquenchable passion to joyfully and vigorously preach the Word of Reconciliation day after day after day.
 
8) Pastoral Intolerance Of Denominational and Congregational Oversight Of Key Ministerial Support/Health Issues.
 
Certainly denominations have established some good policies relating to pastoral support. In many cases, they have also been implemented.
 
Yet it appears that in many cases things which can be done simply aren't. Denominational officials still allow certain conflicted churches with a well-documented "clergy killer" history to eat up yet another pastor. Effective intervention in conflict situations is largely lacking.
Denominational officials and other resources to support and lead congregations through conflict are precious...but apparently few. Compensation guidelines are not enforced, let alone, considered before calls are extended.
 
9) Pastors Must Support And Hold Their Leaders Accountable.
 
Unfortunately, a good part of the problem is with our appointed and elected leaders. Circuit Counselors and denominational executives can be rather irregular. Circuit Counselors, for example, may be the greatest violators of professional ministry standards.
 
This can encompass everything from how they handle transfers, how they handle other staff members, how they handle conflict, and how they resign their ministries. Unfortunately, sometimes the same "dump job" they do in their congregations is also inflicted on those in their supervision.
 
10) Pastors Must Be Involved In Their Denomination.
 
One of the most putrid displays of pastoral un-professionalism is the bad mouthing of denominations by those who do nothing--and refuse-- to get involved in their denomination. Changes do not occur by simply whining. Such behaviors are merely self-serving.
 
If you don't like or agree with the way the denomination is doing things, you only have yourself to blame if you are doing nothing. Get involved. You may find that there are more factors than you thought influencing current procedures. You also may find that those you criticize most are very, very dedicated people who face some of the same obstacles and share some of the same opinions you have.
 
11) Pastors Must Pray And Expect Changes.
 
Don't look to District Presidents, Circuit Counselors and others to make life nice for you. Though concerned, they are limited. Your best bet is to direct your spiritual efforts to the One who is in control. As a friend once said, "Pastors are in sales, not management." If you want real change, go directly to "management" i.e. God.
 
12) Pastors Must Be Patient.
 
Introducing change at various denominational levels can be frustrating. Most frustrating, of course, may be that pastors just don't help themselves! Hang in there. Keep trying. Change doesn't always happen in a big momentous manner. Instead, it's usually incremental. If what you propose is turned down, rejoice that at least a healthy discussion may have started relating to the issue. Just keep trying!
Can Proactivity Work?
 
It sure can! How many pastors have had the experience of receiving a full-time call to congregations offering a total compensation of $18,000 or $21,000 per year?
 
I'm ashamed that my denomination allowed me to receive such a call...twice. In both cases, the respective denominational official (in this case, the Regional Vice President and the Circuit Counselor) failed to address this and other issues.  Perhaps most disturbing was their insistence on the "wonderful" support this congregation was offering in the compensation package. Clearly, it appears that were neglecting their responsibilities and passing the buck to the pastor.
 
In both cases, I addressed this issue tactfully but directly. In both cases the congregations initially reacted negatively to the suggestion that their compensation was inadequate. Since I had declined the call, their reactions were inconsequential to me personally.
 
However, to their credit, one congregation took these comments to heart, reconsidered their compensation, and nearly doubled the annual compensation package offered. The next pastor called accepted the call. A small victory for the Kingdom!
 
Yes, Indeed!
 
Examples such as this demonstrate that pastors can make a difference. Indeed, they do make a difference. You can make a difference!
 
Pastors need to be proactive. They need to be involved in all levels of denominational policy not as antagonists, but as individuals enthusiastically and steadfastly upholding what is right, decent, and proper for the ministry. The power for changes and support that is needed is in their hands.
 
Pastors, help yourself! By so doing, you may be doing your greatest work for the Body of Christ.
 
Thomas F. Fischer
 

* For the complete text of the resolution, presented to the North and East Pastor's Conference of the Michigan District-LCMS, go to
Article 171 in the Ministry Health archives.

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:32 PM